Wasted Rough Cut: Some exegetical fun with Matthew 3:3, Preparing a way in the wilderness (a comment on church planting)
Some exegetical fun with Matthew 3:3:
The ESV and almost every Bible version I can find translates Mat 3:3: “The voice of one crying in the wilderness: ‘Prepare the way of the Lord; make his paths straight.’”
The Greek is pretty close (almost dead on) with the Isaiah 40:3 of the LXX (i.e., the Greek translation of the Old Testament): φωνὴ βοῶντος ἐν τῇ ἐρήμῳ ἑτοιμάσατε τὴν ὁδὸν κυρίου εὐθείας ποιεῖτε τὰς τρίβους τοῦ θεοῦ ἡμῶν (LXX)
What our modern Greek version of Matthew 3:3 does (which is reflected in the English translations) is to put in commas where there wouldn’t have been commas in the original Greek Matthew. And, the modern Greek version makes a capital Ἑ (epsilon) to give the impression that’s where the “quote” starts (Ἑτοιμάσατε, “Prepare”). This would not have been the case in the original as well. However, if we leave things as they are (or were, that is), the “quote” could have started (and probably was meant to be understood) at “In the wilderness,” which more accurately follows the Hebrew of Isaiah 43:3:
A voice cries:
So, John, as Matthew probably intended, was more likely heralding, “In the wilderness prepare the way of the Lord!”
Why is this important? Because this, (i.e., “in the wilderness,” “in the desert”), is where God’s royal road was to be built (cf. Isaiah 40).
The “desert” (the “wilderness”) is the prophet’s way of referring to the chaos of the uncreated world of Genesis 1:1 and the condition of the land now inhabited by people that had returned to “chaos” and darkness, a land lacking water, a dry place (spiritually and actual) where God must recreate. Jesus is introduced into a place, a desert (if you will), where he will recreate a people for his Father’s glory. Both Isaiah and Matthew are drawing upon this Genesis creation.
This is church.
This is church planting.
This is more, an intentional church planting in the hinterlands, as Sean Benesh wrote, in “the uncool places.”
“In the wilderness prepare the way of the Lord.”
Chip M. Anderson, advocate for biblical social action; pastor of an urban church plant in the Hill neighborhood of New Haven, CT; husband, father, author, former Greek & NT professor; and, 19 years involved with social action.